April 9, 2020 – Maundy Thursday- Given and Shed for You, Jesus Prays for Us -Matthew 26:26-29, Luke 22:39-46

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Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV)

In these words of institution there is some argument among Christians as to what Jesus really meant.  Some Christians (such as Orthodox and Roman Catholic) believe that the water and wine transform themselves into body and blood, that once they are consecrated they are no longer bread and wine even though they look like and taste like bread and wine.  Other Christians look upon Communion as simply a memorial meal in which the language is figurative- it’s just bread and wine or crackers and grape juice, and we do it because Jesus did it.

An alternative view on the Supper is to take Jesus exactly at His word.

This IS My body. This IS My blood of the covenant.

In the Small Catechism we are taught:

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink.

In these times it is difficult when we cannot meet together and share the Sacrament. Yet Jesus is giving us a foretaste of the feast to come. By eating the bread that IS at the same time His body, and by drinking the wine that IS at the same time His blood, we are made stronger, we are reinforced as members of one Body.  We are reminded that because Jesus made the sacrifice of His body and His blood, the penalty for our sins is paid.  We are forgiven.

All we can do this Maundy Thursday is remember, even though for now we must forgo the benefit of physically sharing the meal, is that Jesus has still given His body and His blood so that we may have the gift of salvation.

Tonight we also remember after this Last Supper, before Jesus was arrested and taken, before His trial, before the crucifixion, Jesus’ long night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.  And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow,   and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46 (ESV)

Jesus is actually praying the third and sixth petitions of the Lord’s prayer – the third and most difficult, “thy will be done” for Himself. Even as He prayed, He sweat tears of blood, knowing it was God’s will for Him to drink the most bitter cup of punishment possible, and that the cup would not be taken from Him. For His disciples He prayed that they would not fall into temptation (the sixth petition) because He knew their weakness.

Jesus taught us to pray these petitions because He knows how much we chafe at the reality that we are subject to God’s will.  We don’t like to admit that God is holy and we are not.  We want to believe that we earn our daily bread, when in fact even the ability to earn anything is a gift from God. We are tempted at every turn by our own sinful flesh, by the world and by Satan the accuser as well.

Sometimes the cup of suffering is unavoidable. Sometimes we fall into temptation. Sometimes we forget that we aren’t the ones running the universe. Like the disciples we have to be reminded to wake up and pray that we don’t fall into temptation- that we aren’t tempted to despair, to give up hope, to run from Jesus instead of running to Him.

Today we pray that God’s will be done and that we would not be afraid to cling to Jesus instead of trying to rely on ourselves.

Lord, we thank you for the precious gifts of Your body and blood, given and shed for us to forgive us and to wash us clean of our sins. Deliver us from temptation and grant us the gift of unwavering faith in You.

April 6, 2020- The Lord, Our Dwelling Place, Our Comfort, Our Peace- Psalm 90

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Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust, and say, “Return, O children of man!”

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.

You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! Psalm 90 (ESV)

If we look at our lives and at who we are in the light of today and of today’s temporary circumstances, we are truly creatures to be pitied.  The apostle Paul said as much when he wrote to the Corinthians, (1 Corinthians 15:12-24) that if Jesus were not raised from the dead then we have absolutely no hope.  Might as well eat, drink, be merry and take advantage of this life as much as we can, because if the life and resurrection of Christ is not true, what’s the point?

It is telling that the Psalmist says, “the years of our life are seventy or perhaps eighty by reason of strength.” Even with modern medicine it is still uncommon for human beings to live more than eighty years, and to live to advanced age without major health issues is even more uncommon. As much as human beings try, we still have not found a way to conquer mortality.

The good news is that the Gospel is true.  We have the confidence and the assurance that God is in control of the world, of our lives, of the circumstances around us.  We will go through trials.  We will get ill.  We will face persecution for what we believe, even in historically “Christian” countries.  Even though we are guaranteed to suffer in this life, God provides for us.  We live in Him.  Our shelters here on earth are temporary at best, but God is our permanent home.

Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?  So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Wisdom is mentioned many times in Scripture.  In Proverbs 9:10 we learn, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

All of us are tempted to buy in to the age old fallacy best illustrated in William Ernst Henley’s poem Invictus– that we are the masters of our fates, the captains of our souls.  Scripture teaches exactly the opposite, that God is the potter and we are the clay.  We are creatures, rather than the Creator.

It is wise to remember that the sin of the Garden began with the tempter asking Eve,
“Did God actually say…” and followed up with the lie that in eating the fruit, “you will be like God.” (Genesis 3) C.S. Lewis claimed that pride (wanting to be in the place of God) is at the root of all sin.  We all struggle with wanting my will instead of thy will, truth be told.

When we make the mistake of putting ourselves in the place of God (and every single human being alive does this…) we forget our place. We forfeit the comfort and peace of knowing that God has our lives in the palm of His hand. We don’t have to have all the answers.  We don’t have to have it all together. God does.

Lord, help us to ask you for Your wisdom as we remember that this world is not our forever home, but that You are.  Give us the faith to cling tightly to You, the strength to serve You, and Your love to share with those around us. Have mercy on this tired world and the scared people who are living in it, until You return again.

April 5, 2020 Your King Arrives, on a Colt, the Foal of a Donkey- Matthew 21:1-11, John 12:20-43

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Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (Zechariah 9:9)

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11 (ESV)

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” John 12:20-43 (ESV)

The disciples were rightfully confused regarding the whole kingship of Jesus. They likely had images of Jesus being some sort of a military conqueror or a political leader. Yet the way that Jesus rode in to Jerusalem was a bit of tip off as to what kind of King He is.

Donkeys were beasts of burden, humble beasts that average people used to ride or haul loads. The military and political leaders of Jesus’ day made a huge display and show of their power- being carried by others in litters or riding in chariots pulled by horses. Jesus’ triumphal entry in to Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey can be juxtaposed to Pontius Pilate’s entry in to Jerusalem at about the same time. Pilate, as the governor of Judea, would be expected to be in Jerusalem to keep the peace and keep the Roman presence felt during the Passover. In keeping with the Pax Romana, he would have been carried in on a litter, and surrounded by well-armed centurions and soldiers in horse-drawn chariots. Pilate would have embodied the earthly authority and power of Rome.

Jesus, on the other hand, as far as the world was concerned, was a revolutionary, a traveling preacher with a popular following, a person that the Jewish establishment disdained. He did not have weapons. He was not surrounded by soldiers.

Jesus had come to Jerusalem with a mission though. Jesus came to Jerusalem to die.

The same people screaming “Hosanna!, Hosanna!” on Sunday would be screaming, “Crucify Him!, Crucify Him!” on Friday.

The sad irony in this is that we are those people. Jesus went to the cross in our place. We worship and praise God at some times and places, yet with our actions and our sins known and unknown, we too are shouting, “Crucify Him!”

The Son of Man must be lifted up, and He was lifted up, but not in the way the disciples anticipated. Rather than being lifted up to a temporal position of power, He was lifted up to die nailed to a Roman cross. How much difference in perspective a week makes.

There is nothing that we could do, can do or will do that can earn the forgiveness and salvation that Jesus freely bought and paid for on the cross. Even though none of us alive today were present when Jesus was crucified, He sacrificed Himself and gave His life for every one of us. Including all of us hypocrites who scream “Hosanna!” one minute, and “Crucify Him!” the next.

This Sunday last year we were marching around the church waving our palms and singing Hosanna. What a difference a year makes. This year we do not get to pass out the palms and watch the children run around the church waving them.

Yet even when we cannot meet together, we take comfort in knowing Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Our faithfulness is not the issue, His is, as the apostle Paul teaches:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:8-13 (ESV)

This week we remember Jesus’ journey to the cross. As we remember, we repent and we confess our sins, knowing that we too, are the ones screaming, “Crucify Him!” We too are the ones who sometimes mistake Jesus for a being a cosmic granter of our wishes rather than the God of the universe who taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” We realize we are weak. At the same time we thank God for the gifts of faith, forgiveness, hope and salvation. We bow down before the King of Kings, who humbled Himself to come to earth in human flesh and to take the punishment of the curse of sin in our place.

April 3, 2020- Trust God’s Steadfast Love- Psalm 86

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.

Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.

In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.

All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life,and they do not set you before them.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant.

Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. – Psalm 86 (ESV)

In these uncertain times it can be hard to pray.  The Psalms contain prayers for all times, and all situations.  They are one of God’s incredible gifts to us, because when we cannot find the words to pray, we have the Psalms to pray.  We have the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf when we cannot even find the breath or the mind to pray.

Psalm 86 reminds us that God’s love is constant and unwavering, even though our affections are weak and fickle.

Martin Luther commented that we are beggars before God.  We have nothing to offer Him, and He has everything to offer us.

Even so, many of us are longing for a sign of God’s favor, especially in this ongoing pandemic and the upheaval and uncertainty it brings.  No one is fond of the thought of contracting a deadly disease, or of any of the economic, social and other implications that this disease brings with it.

It is in these situations that God gives us the comfort of His promises in Scripture- that He is merciful, that He is gracious, and that He has already made the provision for our salvation.

Lord, you help us and comfort us.  Lord, we know You hear our prayers and that You answer us.  Lord, we ask that You be our strength, our shelter and our peace.

April 2, 2020 The Lord Restores, The Lord Forgives, In Him is our Hope- Psalm 85, Mark 13:3-8, Psalm 118:8-9, Romans 8:18-30

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Photo by Joran Quinten on Pexels.com

Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.- Selah

You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!

Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.

Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.

Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way. Psalm 85 (ESV)

Some of us may be wondering if the current world events are “divine retribution” for all of the evil in the world.  Jesus told us that we will endure trials in this world and not to be alarmed by them:

And as he (Jesus) sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”  And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.  And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. Mark 13:3-8 (ESV)

Unfortunately popular culture, and even some churches, buy in to a fallacy that every day gets better and better, that we can all “live our best life now,” “tomorrow will be a better day,” etc.  The reality is that we as well as the creation all around us are decaying and dying- the scientific term is entropy – the trend of orderly things to descend or degrade into disorderly things- or to degrade back to their essential elements.

There are examples of entropy all around us- the aging process is one, where one’s body is not able to repair and regenerate its cells as effectively as it once did, and the body slowly deteriorates.  Erosion is another example, when water slowly wears away the rocks and dissolves the minerals that comprise the rocks.  Even the fact that a house must be maintained and repainted and so forth over time because paint fades and wood rots is another example of entropy.   We all know that automotive maintenance is performed because time, friction and wear degrade essential parts which have to be replaced. Oil is changed because it gets contaminated and doesn’t lubricate as effectively. Brake pads wear because the linings are worn off by the heat of friction necessary to stop the vehicle, and so forth.

The fact that societies and governments cannot bring about heaven on earth or avert every calamity is because of that complete corruption of all creation (call it Original Sin, or, even though I’m not a Calvinist, the Total Depravity of Man) that sprung forth from the sin of the Garden.  We cannot put our trust in world leaders.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9 (ESV)

The promise that was given by faith to believers through Abraham (and yes, Christian people are the spiritual descendants of Abraham) is that we as well as the creation will be remade. Jesus defeated the penalty of death (and what is entropy, if not a slow and lingering death) for us and took our place. He is returning for us- and we share in His resurrection into a world without entropy- bodies that do not decay and a world that will not rot away. The apostle Paul teaches us this in Romans 8-

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:18-30 (ESV)

So what are we supposed to think when we read Scripture and it seems to contradict everything that we are seeing, living or experiencing?

As we pray in Psalm 85- by faith we have hope.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way.

Thank you, Lord for the gift of faith. Thank you, because in You we have hope. Thank You that you sustain us through even the valley of the shadow of death.  Thank You for Your Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us when we cannot pray.  Thank You that there is never a moment in which You leave us or abandon us.

March 30, 2020 -How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place, God’s Place for Us- Psalm 84, Revelation 21:1-4, Matthew 6:25-33

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Photo by R. Fera on Pexels.com

 

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!

My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! – Selah

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! – Selah

Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! – Psalm 84 (ESV)

As we know, the Psalms are prayers.  Psalm 84 is particularly lovely set to music (the version by Lily Fields, above is quite beautiful) as it reminds us that we are travelers in this world.  We shouldn’t be seeking out a permanent residence here on earth- because none of us are going to live forever in these corrupted bodies, in this corrupted world. We long for and await the day when Jesus will return and remake both our corrupted bodies and the fallen creation.  As the apostle John wrote to us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit from his exile in Patmos:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV)

This doesn’t mean that we should not aim to have a suitable place to live or that we should ignore our bodily needs, just that Jesus told us what our priorities are:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

This world is full of uncertainty, despair, illness, violence and hate.  Watching the news and reading the headlines as well as all the doom and gloom on social media is depressing.  Yet we have good news! We are baptized, we are set apart. By faith we trust Jesus.  He provides for us.  He equips us for the good works that He created us to do.  He is the King.  He holds us in His hand.  Today is not all there is.  We can trust God.  He will get us through any storm. He has a permanent, incorruptible home waiting for us.

 

March 27, 2020 This Little Light, the Forever Party, and Jesus, Fulfillment of the Law

“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” Luke 8:16-18 (ESV)

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:13-20 (ESV)

In these “interesting times” it seems as if nothing is constant. Regulations change, activities change, essential functions are modified or limited, and it’s easy to get a feeling of “free fall” – that either nothing is permitted- or everything goes. We who believe in Jesus do have a constant in this ever-more bizarre world. We have Jesus, the Living Word, to cling to as our solid Rock and Foundation.

Jesus did not come into the world to make it a free for all. Jesus did not come into the world to create a locked down totalitarian state either. The Law that was handed down to Moses from God always remains the same.

The difference between Christians and those who do not yet believe in Jesus, is that Jesus fulfills that Law for us because we cannot live up to its demands.We need the Law to tell us what a good work is, and we need the Law to tell us just how broken (and to use my favorite Calvinist descriptive, depraved) we really are. We need the Law to point out the fact that we need Jesus. We need the Gospel, the precious, saving truth that Jesus has rescued us from the penalty of our sins.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

It is important for us to confess our sins to God. He already knows them, but in our confession (whether it be directly to Jesus in prayer, or in a confession with another believer standing with us) we admit that we are sorry for our sins and that we ask that the Holy Spirit give us the ability to avoid sin in the future.We are not going to be free of sinning in this life (simul Justus et peccator, or “sinner and saint at the same time” is always in play) but we trust Jesus to forgive our sins and for the Holy Spirit to let His light shine through us and our lives.

In our baptisms we have that tangible reminder- water and the Word. We have been given that mark of the cross of Christ forever, and God will not forsake His children.  So what does it mean to let our lights shine?

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 is often used at baptisms, when the baptismal candle is lit. Martin Luther said that Christians are called to be “little Christs.” We are made to be as Christ out in the world, acting as His hands and feet and voice.To be emphatically clear, in God’s economy there are no brownie points, there is no extra credit, there is no quid pro quo, none of that. We are justified and made children of God by faith alone, grace alone, and by Christ alone.

Jesus does tell us that faith has active results. We are called to be light and salt, not because we are earning our way up the ladder, but because in Christ we are already forgiven, saved, set free, set apart to live with Him forever. We are free to start the “forever party” now- to do the good works that God made us for, to serve each other in whatever capacity we may have, to love each other without holding back.

Jesus wasn’t teaching that people need to be better at rule-keeping. The Pharisees were really big on obeying the fine points of the Law, like tithing their mint and spices, (Matthew 23:23) but not so hot at the Great Commandment, to love God and love others as yourself (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)Jesus was teaching the generosity that comes from freedom- the freedom of knowing that our omnipotent, sovereign and holy God is in control.

In law enforcement terms, He always “has our six” and then some. Because we know that God does provide for us and will provide for us, we can be confident in our Foundation and our Rock, Jesus, no matter how dark the times may get or how scary the world may seem.

March 26, 2020 – Jesus Is Master of the Storm- Luke 8:22-25, Job 38:1-11

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One day he (Jesus) got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger.  And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” Luke 8:22-25 (ESV)

It’s a scary picture. Jesus is in the boat (sleeping) with His fisherman followers and a bad storm comes up on the lake.

It must have been a bad storm to send the fishermen, who are used to storms, into a panic.  So they woke Jesus in their panic, convinced that their death was eminent.

Jesus calmed the storm, and asked the disciples what happened to their faith.

Who is this man who can control the wind and water?

The disciples may have been familiar with God’s response to Job in Job 38.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? Job 38:1-11 (ESV)

The same God Who laid the foundation of the earth and set limits for the oceans is the same God who was napping in the disciples’ fishing boat.

We also wonder at times where Jesus is (or why is He “sleeping”) in our hours of greatest need. So many times we think that Jesus doesn’t care or doesn’t hear our prayers.

Yet the God Who created us, the God Who laid the foundation of the earth and set limits for the ocean is the same God Who redeemed us with His own body and shed His own blood.  This world will have trials, and plenty of them.  Even so, this world is not the end.

Jesus is in control of the storm. We are safe with Him even when the storm looks really bad.  Even when this life and this world end, we are safe with Him. Trust in Him.

 

 

March 25, 2020 God Understands Our Frustrations and Hears Our Prayers- Psalm 79

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O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food, the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.

They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.

We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?

Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!

For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!

Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die!

Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord!

But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. Psalm 79 (ESV)

Imprecatory (or “curse”) Psalms (35, 55, 59, 69, 79, 109 and 137) are a little bit different than the majority of the Psalms in that the prayers offered to God call for the destruction of enemies.  Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and to turn the other cheek. So we wonder why anyone would pray to God to pour out His anger on others?

One of the big lessons of the imprecatory Psalms is that God hears all of our prayers and He encourages us to pray even when we are angry, even when we experience injustice, even when our anguish overwhelms us.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

At the heart of even these anguished and revengeful prayers is faith: faith in God’s justice, faith that His will ultimately will be done, even though we might not understand how and in what kind of time.

In praying these Psalms we trust that God will deal with our enemies.  Only God knows the whole story and sees our enemies as they really are, without our biases. God already  knows how we feel about our enemies, but in honest prayer we admit both to God and to ourselves that we want justice for what our enemies have done.  We agree with God that the world is broken and that all is not as it should be.

We don’t gain anything by being Pollyannas and pretending that the world is fine and that we love everyone all the time and that we have never been hurt or wronged. We may experience righteous anger, as well as anger that is not justified.  Because we are sinful, we experience emotions through the lens of our bias, while God already has the complete picture. It’s easy to see what our enemies have done to us, but we don’t always see the trail of destruction we leave behind as well.

We do lift even our anger at others and our sense of injustice up to God in prayer along with every other need, every other petition, every other moment of thankfulness and praise.  Our judgments and condemnations may or may not be justified, but we can trust that God’s plan gets carried out according to His will- justice as well as mercy.

We can be confident that Jesus has overcome death and the grave in our place. We can trust that He alone has paid the price for our sins, that in Him we confess our sins and we are forgiven.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer – What a Friend We Have in Jesus -Joseph M. Scriven

No matter what is on our hearts and minds, we are free to take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

March 24, 2020- Jesus, Friend of Hypocrites, Tax Collectors and Garden Variety Sinners- Psalm 78:36-39, Luke 7:31-35 and Mark 2:16-17

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But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.

Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.

Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.

He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and comes not again. Psalm 78:36-39 (ESV)

(Jesus said:) “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?  They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” Luke 7:31-35 (ESV)

There are those who avoid participating in a church, citing that “the church is full of hypocrites.”  To that the answer should be, “there’s always room for one more.”

All of us are hypocrites, Christian or not, because all people are sinners.  We all fall short of what God demands of us.  We all “flatter God with our mouths” but don’t follow through with our lip service.  We don’t love God with our whole heart.  We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves.

This reality underscores our need for Jesus, the Suffering Servant, who the prophet Isaiah foretold, (Isaiah 53) who was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and who purchased our healing and redemption through His wounds.

All of us wayward sheep have gone astray and need Jesus- the Son of Man who came eating and drinking and befriending tax collectors and sinners and garden variety hypocrites like us.

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17 (ESV)

Jesus is our greatest friend.  We can trust Him in all things.